June 30th commemorates the 169th anniversary of the Santhal Hul, one of the earliest rebellions by peasants against British rule.

Who are Santhals?

  • Santhals are the third largest scheduled tribe community in India after Gonds and Bhils.
  • Today, they are primarily concentrated in Odisha, Bihar, Jharkhand, and West Bengal, with a population exceeding six million in India. 
  • They speak Santhali, using the ‘Ol Chiki’ script created by Pandit Raghunath Murmu. 
  • Damodar River holds significant importance, ashes and bones of the deceased are immersed in it for a peaceful afterlife.
  • The Santhals practice the Sarna religion, worshipping nature in sacred groves called Jaher. 
  • Santhali language is recognized as an official tribal language in India in Schedule VIII. It was added to the by the 92nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 2003. 
  • Also, in 2022, the Constitution of India was translated into Ol Chiki script for the first time by Professor Sripati Tudu of Sidho-Kanho-Birsha University. 

About the Santhal Rebellion (1855):

  • The Santhal Hul of 1855 was a rebellion led by four brothers, Sidho, Kanho, Chand, and Bhairav Murmu, alongside sisters Phulo and Jhano, against British imperialism. 
  • They employed guerrilla tactics and fought for nearly six months until they were finally defeated in January 1856. 
  • Sidhu was executed by hanging in August 1855, followed by Kanhu in February 1856. 
  • It was one of the earliest peasant uprisings aimed at resisting British colonial oppression. 
  • The Santhals also confronted upper castes, landlords, local officials, and moneylenders, collectively referred to as ‘diku’, to protect their economic, cultural, and religious interests.

Major Reasons behind the Rebellion:

  • The Santhals first revolted against the British in response to the Permanent Land Settlement implemented in 1793 and continuously resisted it thereafter.
  • In 1832, specific regions were designated as ‘Santhal Pargana’ or ‘Damin-i-Koh’ by Britishers for them.
    These areas were allocated to Santhals who had been displaced from Birbhum, Murshidabad, Bhagalpur, Chhotanagpur, etc. within the Bengal Presidency.
  • The Santhals were promised land for settlement and agriculture in Damin-i-Koh. However, instead of fulfilling these promises, the Santhals faced oppressive practices such as land-grabbing.
  • They were also subjected to begari (bonded labour), which included two types: Kamioti and Harwahi.

The SPT and CNT Acts 

As an implication of the uprising following acts were enacted: –  

  • Santhal Pargana Tenancy (SPT) Act of 1876: The British enacted laws prohibiting the transfer of Adivasi lands to non-Adivasis. This legislation ensures that Adivasi lands, both urban and rural, can only be inherited according to the Act, preserving the Santhals’ autonomy in governing their land.
  • Chhota Nagpur Tenancy (CNT) Act 1908: As a result of the Birsa Movement, an Act was introduced permitting land transfers within the same caste and specific geographic regions, subject to District Collector approval, allowing transfers among Adivasis within the same police station area and among Dalits within the same district. 

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